I’ve received a ton of great questions and comments recently that probe beyond the basic mechanics of money management and get to the heart of why we do these things. For example, Brent dropped a line last week wondering if making smart financial decisions ought to make him happy. Here’s his message:

You and many of your readers clearly get joy from financial planning. My wife and I have gone through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We have no debt but our mortgage, and we’re making double payments on that. We follow a budget, and we invest 15% of our income. None of this is fun. We find it ho-hum at best. What is it that delights you and your readers?

This is a great question, and it gets to the heart of a subject I’ve written about a lot recently: finding balance.

When we spend too much, when we go into debt, we’re pursuing all joy, but only in the present. But when we cut back so far that we’re drinking watered-down hot chocolate, we’re sacrificing our present for the future. A balance has to be struck.

And I do think it’s possible to find a balance. I think it’s possible to do the responsible things — to budget, to save, to invest — and still have fun. I also think that each person takes a different route to finding joy in personal finance.

Using myself as an example, I do not like to budget. So I don’t. I use a rough spending plan as a guide, but I don’t force myself to “stay within the lines”. Nor do I like to fuss with details, so I try to automate as much as possible, and I’m moving toward a system of paperless personal finance.

On the other hand, I had a lot of fun figuring out how to pay off my debt. Once I was committed to debt reduction, it became a challenge to find new ways to save money and, especially, to earn more. How much could I pay off in a single month? How much could I earn?

Once the debt was gone, the next challenge was to create a lifestyle that let me do what I wanted while also providing me with the income I needed. I knew that I wanted to write, and that I wanted to work from home. Could I make this happen? I didn’t know when I started, but that just pushed me to work harder to make it happen.

Although I don’t write enough about it here at Get Rich Slowly, I get a kick out of anything that deals with increasing my income. It’s like a game. It brings me joy.

Recently, Frugal Bachelor complained that personal-finance blogs aren’t challenging enough. He means that most of us write about the basics, but we don’t talk enough about how to pursue our dreams. This is a great point.

It’s vital that you have goals. Goals give purpose and meaning to your financial decisions. If you’re accelerating your mortgage and saving 15% for retirement, but you’re only doing it because Dave Ramsey (or J.D. Roth) says you should be doing it, you need to examine your priorities. These are great steps, to be sure, but you have to do them for reasons that are clear to you. I cannot tell you what your financial goals are or should be — and neither can Dave Ramsey. You need to discover these for yourself.

In Frugal Bachelor’s post, he wrote, “You can max out your 401(k) year after a year, but if you never actually use it to do something, it’s no better than having tens of thousands of dollars in debt.” Your financial decisions must be made with purpose. You must begin with the end in mind.

What delights me? What is my purpose right now? Saving for goals. For so long, I was saving to pay off debt that I now get a buzz when I see how much I’m saving toward the things I want.

Regulars at Get Rich Slowly know that I pine for a Mini Cooper. I visit the Mini website to design my own model about once per month. (On Wednesday, I made the mistake of actually dropping by a showroom to sit in the new Minis.) Because I want this so badly, I’ve found new ways to dig up the money. It’s a terrible longing, but it’s also a good thing. It gives purpose to my saving.

I also get joy out of saving for a vacation with Kris, and out of planning for new furniture in the “man room” downstairs. I’ve learned that the little things that used to bring me fleeting pleasure — buying CDs or comic books or videogames — cannot compare to the joy I get from setting and meeting big financial goals. That is what delights me.

What delights you? What brings you joy in personal finance? What gives you purpose? Or, like Brent, do you find that you struggle to find the fun in it?

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